ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS begins: “Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people”. Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year. The word ‘Advent’ comes St Nicholas’ Day is 6 December, and this from a Latin word meaning ‘coming’ or is the day when children in Europe ‘arrival’ and it is the coming of the receive presents. Also celebrated in Messiah which is being prepared for. Europe is the feast-day of St Lucy or Lucia on 13 December. In Sweden the daughter Advent begins on the fourth Sunday of the family will wear white on St Lucia’s before Christmas, called ‘Advent Sunday’. Day and, with a crown of evergreens and In the Western church this is always the lighted candles on her head, serves special Sunday nearest the feast of St Andrew, Lucia cakes to her family. which falls on 30 November. There are four Sundays in Advent before Christmas Christmas Eve falls on 24 December and it Day. In the Eastern Orthodox churches marks the final preparations for the Advent begins in the middle of celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas November. Day, 25 December. Originally Advent was celebrated as a There are several important days after penitential period like Lent but today Christmas Day: 26 December is the feast most of this austerity has gone. However, of St Stephen, the first Christian to die for weddings are still discouraged during his faith: (see Acts 7:57-60). 27 December Advent and people wishing to get is the feast of the apostle St John and 28 married at this time of the year, December is the feast of the Holy frequently do so on St Catherine’s Day (25 Innocents: (see Matthew 2:16-17). 1 November). The Sunday before Advent January is the feast of the Circumcision of (Trinity 25) is traditionally known as ‘Stir Jesus when, according to Luke 2:22ff, he up Sunday’ and although this is often was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to interpreted today as a time to make be circumcised in accordance with the Christmas cakes and puddings, in fact it Law of Moses. refers to the Collect for the day, which The Christmas season ends on 6 January with the feast of Epiphany, a Greek word meaning ‘manifestation’. Originally this marked the baptism of Jesus, as it still does in the East, but now in the West it commemorates the arrival of the Magi or Wise Men at the stable. CHRISTMAS tale and miss the significance of the lowliness of Jesus’ birth. Christmas holds a unique place in British national life but it should be remembered Because of the literal way in which very that it is not the most important festival of young children think, it seems unwise to the Christian church. ‘read’ them the birth stories, or to involve them in nativity plays, until they have There are many good experiences linked heard a variety of other legends. Only with Christmas which offer a valuable then, will they have started to realise that teaching resource e.g. the birth of a baby, such stories contain just a basis of fact and the joy of giving and receiving and the will view the Christmas narratives in the goodwill which permeates the same light. community. Inevitably they will still bring all kinds of Although it is a Christian festival all kinds images and understanding into the stories of traditions, rituals, customs and but they will have had the foundation for fantasies have become associated with later understanding. Teachers should be Christmas. The wise men in the birth familiar with the two accounts of the birth stories have become kings and St Nicholas of Jesus as found in Matthew’s and Luke’s has become Father Christmas and yet, the Gospels and should choose books about festival still conjures delight, wonder and the Christmas stories with great care. enjoyment for children and adults alike. It is essential that children realise that a The birth narratives are a valuable part of birthday celebrates a person’s identity. our children’s heritage but they are also Joy of a birth in a family, love shared highly theological documents which are between parents and children and other beyond the understanding of most young relatives, should all be explored in the children, who may well confuse angels context of Christmas at the early stages of with fairies or God with Father Christmas, children’s religious development. Pupils thinking that the Christmas story is a fairy should be helped to recognise that Jesus was born like other babies and that he was dependent on his mother until he birth of a child might be lost beneath the grew up. cardboard, glue and tinsel.” I suggest that teachers who plan a developmental Most of our children are preoccupied with approach to teaching festivals in their what they would like to receive as school will prevent themselves falling into Christmas gifts. A sensitive teacher will this trap. The wide range of age and bring the children’s attention to the care ability found in our classrooms prevents reflected in the choice of the presents and the planning of such an approach the love which they represent. She will according to the children’s chronological also turn the children’s thoughts to their age. For this reason I have outlined four own ‘giving’ of presents and cards and suggested stages of religious development help them to answer questions such as which build on the child’s previous “What can I do to bring joy to other experience. All the topics give scope for people?” development in a variety of ways, taking the individual needs of children into The commercial side of Christmas is often account. deplored but children should be helped to see that trade provides a livelihood and that indeed many of the products of industry contribute valuably to gifts and ‘giving’. One Agreed Syllabus states “Christmas activities tend to dominate the life of the school during the second half of the autumn term. This has brought about a number of dangers – the over-familiarity of the children with the story – a sense of duty rather than celebration among teachers; and the danger that the simplicity of the announcement of the STORIES NB: All the major events of Christmas are recorded in the New Testament. However, both St John ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS and St Mark begin with the baptism of Jesus and the role of St John the Baptist. The story of the birth of Jesus is to be found only in EVENT REFERENCE St Matthew and St Luke. The announcement of Luke 1: 5-25 the birth of John the Baptist The Annunciation Luke 1: 26-38 Mary’s visit to Luke 1: 39-56 Elizabeth The Birth of John the Luke 1: 57-80 Baptist The Birth of Jesus Matthew 2: 1-12 The Birth of Jesus and Luke 2: 1-20 the visit of the Shepherds The Visit of the Magi Matthew 2: 1-12 The Flight into Egypt Matthew 2: 13-18 and the Massacre of the Holy Innocents The Circumcision of Luke 2: 21-40 Jesus and the Presentation in the Temple THE CHRISTMAS CANDLE And when I blew the candle out How dark the darkness seemed. Last night I took a Christmas candle to my room To watch the curving beauty of the flame Against the dark. But when I turned, I was amazed How light the darkness had become – Could that much light come from one small flame? And when I blew the candle out How dark the darkness seemed. And I remembered, long ago in a manger Lay the first Christmas candle A newborn child So helpless and so small. Last night I took a Christmas candle to my room To watch the curving beauty of the flame Against the dark. But when I turned, I was amazed How light the darkness had become – Could that much light come from one small flame? THE OXEN I should go with him in the gloom, CHRISTMAS EVE Hoping it might be so. And twelve of the clock. ‘Now they are all on their knees,’ An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease. We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years! Yet, I feel, If someone said on Christmas Even, ‘Come’, see the oxen kneel ‘In the lonely barton by yonder Coomb Our childhood used to know,’ EPIPHANY and Balthasar as youthful, middle-aged and old-aged and one of them is usually St Matthew in his version of the Gospel dark-skinned. tells how wise men came to Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s birth and inquired for The gifts of the magi to the Christ-child the child who had been born King of the have symbolic meanings :- Jews. Herod, the King of Judea, sent them to find Jesus in Bethlehem, and a star Gold - for a king went before them showing them the way. Frankincense - for the divine Myrrh - for one who suffers When the wise men found Jesus, they fell down and worshipped him and presented For Christians, the gifts represent the him with gifts of gold, frankincense and offering to Christ of wealth, adoration and myrrh. This event is often referred to as self-sacrifice. ‘The Adoration of the Magi’. Traditionally the magi are often depicted as kings because of the passage from the Old Testament which says, “The kings of Tarshish and the isles shall bring presents… all kings shall fall down before him’. (Psalm 72:10-11). The church celebrates this event with the season of Epiphany which begins on 6 January. Epiphany means ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles’ and it is a time which signifies the spreading of Christianity to all lands, to all peoples, for all ages. Pictures often portray the three kings Caspar, Melchior A STORY FOR EPIPHANY He had not gone far, however, before he saw a fierce rat shouting at some little mice to give him all their store of food. THE FOURTH WISE MOUSE For a moment the fourth wise mouse hesitated, for he did so wish to bring his three pieces of cheese as a gift; but then he Once upon a time there were three wise made up his mind and called out to the mice. They lived some miles away from rat: “Here! Take this.” Then sadly he here in very grand holes. Their nests went on his way. were soft and warm, their coats were sleek, and their tummies were always For a time he walked on, wondering what well filled with satisfying food. They he would find at the end of his journey, were good and kind, and were respected when he heard faint crying from the by their friends and neighbours. hedgerow. He peered in, and there he saw a family of hungry young mice These wise mice were able to look up at crying for their mother, whom they had the stars, and to understand from them not seen for days. So he called out to what God was telling them: so it was that them: “Here’s a lump of cheese for you.” one night, when they saw a new star, they He enjoyed helping them, but then he agreed to follow it. remembered that he had only piece left. All through the night they travelled He trudged on until he saw in the across fields, over bridges, along country distance the coloured light streaming roads, until at last they came in the early from the windows of the old village morning to an old village church. church, and he hurried on with his one remaining gift. So eager was he to get Through the stained-glass windows the there that he never saw the thin old Field light shone out in lovely colours, and Mouse until he bumped into him. through the open door they saw a Christmas crib. So it was that those three “I’m sorry, friend”, he said, but the old wise mice scrambled up into the sweet- mouse was too weak to reply, and just smelling hay of the crib and laid their gifts looked up at him with his great sad eyes down in front of the tiny baby, a figure no from the ground where he lay. With a bigger than they were: gifts of corn, and heavy heart our traveller gave his last bread and chocolate. piece of cheese to this starving stranger. Meanwhile, some distance away, lived Slowly he went up the path and into the another mouse, as wise as the firs three. church, where stood the crib. He saw the He too lived comfortably, his nest was figures of Mary and Joseph there, with the snug, his clothes fine, and his food ample. Christ Child between them. He saw the same star, and also set off with his gifts. He had three pieces of Beside the manger lay some little bits of cheese to bring, which had him a lot to corn and bread and chocolate. For a buy from the old shop mouse down the moment the fourth wise mouse stood lane. there with tears in his eyes because he had come empty-handed. Then quite suddenly, as he waited in the hay beside the little figures of the Christmas crib, he seemed to hear a voice: “Well done, my little mouse. The gifts you gave you gave to me, you know!” (Source: Church Times 6 January 1989) THE THREE KINGS Three Kings came riding from far away, Melchior and Caspar and Balthasar; Three Wise Men out of the East were they, And they travelled by night and they slept by day For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star. The star was so beautiful, large and clear, That all the other stars of the sky Became a white mist in the atmosphere, And by this they knew that the coming was near Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy. Three caskets they bore on their saddle- bows, Three caskets of gold with golden keys; Their robes were of crimson silk with rows Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows, Their turbans like blossoming almond- trees … So they rode away; and the star stood still, The only one in the grey of morn; Yes, it stopped, it stood still of its own free will, Right over Bethlehem on the hill, The City of David, where Christ was born … THE JOURNEY OF THE MAGI Six hands at an open door dicing “A cold coming we had of it, for pieces of silver, Just the worst time of the year And feet kicking the empty wine- For a journey, and such a long skins, journey: But there was no information, so The ways deep and the weather we continued sharp, And arrived at evening, not a The very dead of winter.” moment too soon And the camels galled, sorefooted, Finding the place; it was (you may refractory, say) satisfactory. Lying down in the melting snow. There were times we regretted All this was a long time ago, I The summer palaces on slopes, the remember, terraces, And I would do it again, but set And the silken girls bringing down sherbet. This set down Then the camel men cursing and This: were we led all that way for grumbling Birth or Death ? There was a Birth, And running away, and wanting certainly, their liquor and women, We had evidence and no doubt. I And the night-fires going out, and had seen birth and death, the lack of shelters, But had thought they were And the cities hostile and the different; this Birth was towns unfriendly Hard and bitter agony for us, like And the villages dirty and Death, our death. charging high prices: We returned to our places, these A hard time we had of it. Kingdoms, At the end we preferred to travel But no longer at ease here, in the all night, old dispensation, Sleeping in snatches, With an alien people clutching With the voices singing in our ears, their gods. saying I should be glad of another death. That this was all folly. CROWN OF LIGHT FESTIVAL Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley, Stars gleaming Wet, below the snow line, smelling overhead, of vegetation, Evening air’s With a running stream, and a clear, water-mill beating the darkness, And Advent is And three trees in the low sky. here, And an old white horse galloped Now in away in the meadow. Sweden. Then we came to a tavern with Golden-haired girls vine-leaves over the lintel, In each village and town Wear a white flowing gown, Now in Sweden. With a crown of green leaves, And candles all bright, On St Lucia’s night, Now in Sweden. Snowflakes are dancing, As bells start to ring, And the children’s choir sing, Now in Sweden. David Bateson From “Let’s Celebrate” by John Foster OUP NEW YEAR This night Of all the nights Is the year’s last. All, all The other nights Are gone, are past … After The evening, with Its fading light Put the lid On the hour And close it tight. Close up Your tired eye; Close up the day. Bid the old year Goodbye, And come away. Jean Kennward From “Let’s Celebrate” by John Foster OUP STORY Matthew 1:18 – 2:23 Birth at Bethlehem in a house Visit of the Magi – a star Flight to Egypt Massacre of the Innocents Return to Nazareth Luke 2:1 – 2:52 Visit of the angel Gabriel Census of Caesar Augustus Journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem Birth of Jesus in a manger Visit of the Shepherds The Journey to Jerusalem Return to Nazareth CELEBRATION Giving presents, Sending cards Lighting candles, Singing carols Making Christingle, Advent wreath Performing pantomime Making a crib Eating special food Decorating a tree, Hanging holly and mistletoe Performing nativity plays THEMES Gifts and giving Light and darkness Love Peace Refugees Christmas traditions – past and present Concern for the poor and the hungry Birth/birthdays Homes and families Names Journeys Christmas in the media Joy/happiness INNER MEANINGS God entering the world: INCARNATION Jesus as God’s gift Jesus as the light of God in the world CHRISTMAS – A DEVELOPMENTAL APPROACH STAGE 1 STAGE 2 STAGE 3 STAGE 4 POSSIBLE ASPECTS OF CHRISTMAS TO BE EXPLORED The Christmas The Christmas Signs and symbols The Christmas story in pictures Story – told of Christmas story told in art, – using Christmas The Christmas poetry, music, Christmas cards customs Story – read stamps Christmas Christmas and legends and tales the media Legends of Christmas at Christmas in the Christmas Christmas – home community past customs abroad Father Christmas and present The history of etc. Christmas foods Christmas Trees Charities at Old Testament Christmas prophecies of Ancient winter Jesus’ birth solstice celebrations WAYS OF CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS Parties and Seasonal foods Christmas Cooking preparations messages Christmas foods Decorations Decorations Other festivals, The Christian Party foods and Christmas cards E.g. St Nicholas, St celebration of seasonal foods and gifts Lucia, St Stephen Christmas, e.g. Presents Christmas songs Decorations advent, Party hats and carols Christmas Christingles, Pantomime and entertainment Blessing of the drama Crib, Advent wreaths, Midnight services, carols The Christmas story in mime and drama POSSIBLE TOPICS TO BE EXPLORED Homes and Growth Gifts and Loneliness, rejection, families Colour at giving i.e. “No room at the Babies Christmas Sheep and Inn” Birthdays The Twelve Days shepherds Commercialisation of Names of Christmas Light and Christmas Postmen Birth darkness Christmas in the announcements Naming media etc. ceremonies Joy, Happiness Journeys. Stars. Nature at Christmas – holly, mistletoe, fir cones etc.
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